When the Snow Falls | A Short Story

Although the moon has been in the sky for several hours, it’s too warm for the children to sleep. They lay in matching brass beds in the large stone room, sweaty and restless in thin white linen pajamas. A few of the younger children whisper and giggle to themselves, but most are simply waiting, staring at the night sky through the high rectangular windows.

Winnie runs her hand along the stones feeling the heat from the day still living inside the granite. When she approaches the room of the children she begins to hum to herself a tune from a long-ago memory. The children shift when she arrives and she allows the song to move through her and out her full pink lips.

“Cold the wind blows through the trees
Cold the wind lives within me.
Cold are voices in the night
Cold are visions lost from sight.”

Her hand moves to her blinded eyes, opaque white with a hint of blue, and she presses her palm into them. Fionn sits up. She wants to say words of comfort to the woman who has taken her in, who cares for all the unforgotten children of the village in her castle on the hill, but she doesn’t have the words. They seem locked within her and she looks across the room to where her best friend Drift sits with his knees tucked up under him. He’s staring at Winnie. They all are.

“Into the village, I dance and sway,
Feeling the coldness melt away.
Into the water, I sink and dive,
Feeling the world around me alive.”

Winnie begins to dance, a slow twirling movement with her arms out. Her sundress, a soft light blue color, twirls around her knees. Her red hair falls from the wooden clip holding it at the top of her head spilling into beautiful ringlets around her oval face. She seems lost in her song, spinning and dancing around the room with a sweet smile on her face. She’s breathtaking.

When she reaches the furthest wall of the room, she stops. Some of the children are sitting up and the little ones are whispering to each other again. Winnie opens a wooden chest and pulls out the purple glass bottle with the little off-white squeeze ball at the end. She turns back to them, smiles warmly, and begins.

“Once upon a time the people of this land lived in a world of changing seasons and peaceful harmony. Each one had its own Queen who presided over it for three months of the year. They took turns ruling, each spreading their own magic over the land.

The May Queen with a giant crown of daffodils upon her head arrived in spring bringing rain showers, dancing breezes, and colorful blooming flowers. She called the birds to sing and the rabbits to run.

The Sunshine Queen dressed in shades of brilliant orange arrived in summer bringing darting dragonflies, longer days, and sparkling waters. She called the melons to ripen and the bumble bees to buzz.

The Leaf Queen dressed in a flowing willow gown arrived in autumn bringing crisp cool air, swirling winds, and turning the land to shades of brown. She called the pumpkins to swell and the leaves to fall.

The Snow Queen with glittery long white hair arrived in winter bringing biting coldness, sharp icicles, and fields of crystal white snow. She called the bear to sleep and the hearth to be lit.”

Although Fionn and the other children hear this story every night, it always enchants them. They don’t move, mesmerized by her words, captivated by a world that seems at once make-believe and real. Winnie lowers her voice now, saying the next part in almost a whisper.

“All of this changed when the Snow Queen became jealous. Feeling left out and angry, she locked the other Queens into tiny cells within her icy palace. She cursed the lands, her wrath spreading like a virus, leaving the people to suffer through wars, plague, and famine. The natural tranquility and balance of the world transformed into chaos and selfishness.”

Winnie spins in a circle holding the purple bottle out in front of her with extended arms. She dances as she finishes up the story, singing the last part with a voice as soft as the water lapping the shore of the lake. The children all sit up now.

“Still, to this day, the Queens remain locked away in the Snow Queen’s icy palace awaiting children of pure hearts to rise up and heal the lands. You, my sweet ones, are those children! You are the ones we have been waiting for. Your kindness, warmth, and love are all we need to rid the world of the Snow Queen’s infectious curse. You, my darling little children of the land, will free us all!”

Overcome with joy the children clap. They always clap. Winnie takes a small bow and giggles. Fionn and Drift, older than the rest, smile across the room at each other. They no longer believe in Queens or curses, but remember how good it felt to think love could heal the world and save them from the harshness of reality.

“Now it’s time to rest little ones,” Winnie says. “Lay down.”

Starting with the first bed, she walks down the line, kissing the forehead of each child and then spraying them with a fine mist of fresh lavender water. She whispers “sweet dreams” and “you are loved” to each child. Fionn watches the little ones curl into a ball with a smile on their faces and fall asleep almost instantly.

Feeling tears ache behind her tired eyes, Fionn shifts from side to side. She waits until Winnie leaves and she’s certain all the children are asleep before allowing herself to cry. Drift crosses the room and quietly slips in beside her. He wraps his thin arms around her pulling her close. They both have the same shade of brown hair, but while Fionn has dull green eyes, Drift’s are a brilliant blue.

Despite the heat, they cling to each other—the misery passing between them without the need for words. They’ve had to bury a few of the small ones lately because they got heat sick and they couldn’t get them cool. The truth is far bleaker than any bedtime story.

The windmills don’t move anymore. The cypress trees have shriveled and fallen. The temperatures keep rising and rising. The cooling waters of the lake are receding, and when they dry up, no amount of hope and love will save them. The young teenagers hold each other until exhaustion dries their tears and they fall into a dreamless sleep.

The children rise with the sun, as they do each day. After eating a quick breakfast of dried fruit and nuts, they hike to the lake. Winnie, despite having no vision, leads the way with the youngest child tied to her back with a winding piece of white cotton. They are almost to the water when the sound of hooves on the hard-packed ground makes them stop.

“What’s that?” Winnie asks.

“A man on horseback,” Fionn says.

“He’s headed right for us,” Drift says.

A golden-red horse, its coat shining bright as the sun, gallops toward them leaving a trail of dust behind it. The rider pulls the reins and suddenly stops in front of them. He’s a large man with a shiny bald head, a round fat belly, and a fluffy red beard sprinkled with golden flecks of light.

He laughs and slides off a saddle of polished dark leather flinging a huge red velvet sack onto his shoulder. He seems unfazed by the heat standing in shiny black boots, red pants, and a matching red jacket lined in white fur. There are thick gold rings on every finger.

Fionn and Drift feel ripples of unease circling around them. This man and his presence endanger them all. They inch closer together and protectively stand holding hands in front of Winnie and the other children.

“Who goes there?” Winnie calls.

“My lady,” the man says. “I’m Arki. I was told of the blind woman of unspeakable beauty who lives by the lake with the children of the land and I see their descriptions of you fall terribly short. You are the goddess of my dreams and I bow to you and bring gifts.”

Winnie blushes as she unwinds the long piece of fabric from around her waist, pulls the toddler from his spot on her back, and sets him on the hot ground. He begins to cry. Fionn rushes forward and scoops the blonde boy into her arms soothing him with soft kisses on his warm head. Arki’s eyes are dull and grey. His lips small and tight.

There’s an odd look on Winnie’s face as she lets the fabric fall in a heap on the ground and smoothes out her soft blue sundress with both hands, stepping toward the stranger. Arki bows before Winnie, beaming at her. Drift wants to yell “she’s blind and can’t see you” but a worried look from Fionn stops him.

Arki winks, setting down the velvet sack on the ground in front of him, and pulls out bags of candy, bottles of sugary drinks, and toys. He hands them to the children who rush forward grabbing greedily at the presents. The man laughs and his belly shakes. Drift grabs Fionn’s hand again, squeezing it tight and pulling her closer to him.

“What’s happening?” Winnie asks Drift.

He tells her of the gifts, of the man’s huge stature, and adds a bit about how he looks “untrustworthy.” Winnie doesn’t seem to be listening. She walks closer and closer to the man. There’s something enchanting about him she doesn’t understand—a pull that feels at once magical and comfortable. She feels him deep inside her bones. When she reaches out and touches him, the man holds his hand to his heart and stumbles back three steps.

“Warda,” Arki says in a whisper. “My love.”

“Her name is Winnie,” Fionn says.

Winnie says nothing, but the name Warda rings through her like a bell— both wrong and right. The connection is unmistakable and irresistible. She sways and finds she can barely stand. Electic sparks shoot through her body taking over. She’s not in control but doesn’t care. To surrender to him feels as natural as breathing. To be his is all she’s ever wanted.

No words are spoken as the two adults circle each other, a sort of imperial dance of old passing between them. The children watch as the woman they know and love seems to fall away from them in an instant. Arki pulls Winnie to him, sweeping her off her feet. They dance to music only they can hear as the children watch with fear and confusion.

After a few minutes, Arki pulls Winnie onto his horse, swinging her into place behind him. She wraps her arms around his thick waist and nuzzles her face into the fur of his big coat. The children watch with wide eyes as the horse lunges forward at full gallop toward the castle on the hill. She doesn’t look back or call out to them.

Fionn and Drift lead the other children to the water and keep them safe during the heat of the day. They kiss the little ones’ cheeks and tell them it will all be okay. They keep them cool and feed them jam and bread for lunch. They hold their tiny hands and sing songs with them. When it’s time to return to the castle the teenagers feel the last beautiful drops of childhood melt away from them. They are in charge now and they are in real danger.

In the days to come, the children do their best to stay clear of the strange and powerful man who has taken over their home and their Winnie. There’s little doubt he’s a supernatural being, a larger-than-life monster who commands them to either fetch things for him or stay away. His fiery voice thunders at all times through the stone walls and the children grow more and more hopeless.

They rarely see Winnie, but when they do, she’s unrecognizable in fire-red dresses of silk with thick gold necklaces of bright, fat rubies. Her hair has grown longer and turned a light caramel color. She drinks golden goblets of wine and lounges by the empty hearth on piles of furs. There are no more bedtime stories. No more kisses or lavender water. No more talking to her at all. She’s become Arki’s lover, Warda.

As days turn into weeks, Fionn and Drift know they must do something. On a cloudy night, after the other children have fallen asleep, they sneak on bare feet through the castle to spy on the couple. They find Winnie sleeping alone on a pile of furs before the empty hearth. Rushing to her, they grab her shoulders and shake her.

“Winnie! Please, Winnie. Wake up! Please! We need you!”

No matter how hard they try, shaking her and pleading, she doesn’t stir. The sound of Arki’s booming voice causes them both to jump. They follow the sound and find Arki standing naked in the bright moonlight. He throws back his head, howls at the sky, and runs toward the lake.

The children follow him, running as fast as they can to keep up and stop behind a muddy boulder near the shoreline. They watch him walk into the lake until he’s standing with the water to his chest. He begins to drink. It’s not like a normal person, cupping water into their hands and sipping. No. This is something else entirely.

He thrusts his head under the water and sucks and sucks. He doesn’t come up for air, but rather continues to drink as the water around him begins to pull from the shore. He’s draining the lake! He’s the reason the water pulls away more and more each day. The children have to cover their mouths to not scream as he finally stands, the water now around his shins.

Heat radiates from him in ripples causing the ground around them to crack further and the boulder to become so hot they are forced to inch away from it. Arki walks out of the water pressing his large hands together forming a ball of fire he plays with, tossing it up and catching it before throwing it at one of the few remaining trees. It burns bright in the dark night.

Fionn and Drift don’t move or speak long after Arki has disappeared back toward Winnie and the castle on the hill. They watch the tree until there’s nothing left but a pile of glowing ash.

“What are we going to do?” Fionn says.

She’s crying now. Drift tries to pull her to him but she pushes him away. Despair feels thick around her, like a heavy golden chain tightening around her throat. She pounds her fist on the hard ground.

“What can we do?” Drift says.

“We have to do something! He’s a monster! We will die if we don’t do something. The children will die. We can’t let him do this. There has to be a way. There has to be.”

There’s silence for a minute before Drift speaks. His voice is quiet and hesitant, a tiny whisper against the dark.

“We could go into the tunnels.”

Fionn shudders at the idea. Long ago Winnie warned them to stay away from the tunnels under the castle because they are unstable and hold the heat. They both know most of the old things are down there, covered in ancient dust, and perhaps answers. They look at each other and nod. It’s the only way.

The entrance to the tunnels is blocked by a heavy wooden desk in the old library. The books were burned long ago by invaders along with Winnie’s family. She couldn’t make it to the fortified tower in time, but she survived by hiding in the tunnels for weeks, eating old bottles of jam, and drinking wine. The children know this because they once found her weeping in the library when they should have been asleep. It was the one time she told them of the past.

“I don’t like to talk about it,” she told them. “You children are the hope for the world. Remember that. Yes, there are bad people and bad things. Bad things happen to us but we don’t have to let them define us. We can still be good. We can still be kind. Don’t ever forget that.”

Fionn and Drift don’t like to break rules, but they know what must be done. They brace their feet against the wall and press their backs into the hulking desk. It moves slowly inch by inch and they pause every few minutes to listen for the sound of Arki or Winnie. It’s a long time before the small door of light wood is fully exposed. The pair hold hands and stand before it, already tired from the effort.

“Winnie isn’t herself,” Fionn says. “So it’s not wrong. Right? We have to do this.”

“Sometimes you have to break the rules to save others. We have no other choice.”

“I hate this.”

“Me, too.”

Holding hands they enter the tunnel and shut the door behind them. It’s pitch dark and they both wish they’d thought to bring some kind of torch with them. Fearing the naked Arki they saw at the lake and what will happen with the water is gone, they let go of each other’s hands and use the wall to guide them down the spiraling stone steps.

The further they go the hotter and thicker the air becomes. By the time they reach the bottom of the stairs they have become drenched in sweat and have bright red faces. Both feel as if they are ill with high fevers. A small light far off to their right suddenly appears. It’s bright after so much darkness and they reach for each other’s hands at the same time. Both of them are shaking.

Unsure if they are seeing things, they inch toward the light, staying so close their shoulders and knees bump into each other. They find a small metal torch with a bright yellow flame sitting in a shiny brass holder. They spin around looking for who may have lit it, but don’t see or hear anyone.

“This is weird,” Drift says.

“You think?”

“Maybe we should go back.”

“Back to what? We need to find answers and we already took the risk and came down here. There’s no other choice. We can’t keep doing nothing.”

“I know, but I don’t like any of this.”

Fionn doesn’t either but she pulls the torch down anyway and holds it out in front of her. She’s about to ask what direction they should go when her hand is pulled sharply to the left, toward the entrance of another tunnel. It’s a terrifying feeling, but after what she’s seen Arki do, it feels as if she doesn’t have any other choice but to go with it. Something is guiding her and she’s choosing to believe it wants to help.

“This way,” she says without explaining the weird pulling sensation to Drift. She hopes she’s right to trust whatever this is.

The path slopes downward and they follow the torch as it guides them through turn after turn, deeper and deeper into the maze of tunnels. There’s little to see besides empty stone walls and locked metal doors until they reach a completely round room. There are two striped armchairs set before a roaring fire, an enormous red and blue faded rug, and a small table. It’s cozy and strange.

“Whoa,” Fionn says.

“Yeah. Whoa.”

They spin around expecting someone to be there, but find they are alone. Fionn places the torch into an empty holder by the door and turns to find Drift standing before the fire staring up at an enormous oil painting of a woman. As Fionn gets closer she can see the painting closely resembles Winnie, only this woman’s features are slightly more angular with thinner lips and a pointer nose. She’s sitting on a chair covered in white furs while wearing a bright-red silk dress. Her golden brown hair falls in glossy ringlets down to her waist. There’s a strange smile on her face which looks like she might be slightly in pain.

Drift suddenly gasps and points at the bottom of the elaborate golden frame. Fionn jumps.

“Look!” he says. “There’s a name on the plaque below it.”

“Warda!”

“Yes, the name Arki keeps calling Winnie. He must think she’s her or something. That has to be a clue. Right?”

“I guess…it’s definitely weird and spooky…as if this woman has taken over Winnie.”

“Exactly like that.”

Fionn and Drift stare at the painting in silence. There’s an odd coolness to this room despite the roaring fireplace and the heat of the tunnels. It would be refreshing if they weren’t so scared. They sit down in the chairs thinking and staring into the fire—neither has seen one except for occasionally in the kitchens when Winnie makes them stew. This one feels different and they wonder what kind of magic led them here and what this new information about Warda means. How can they free Winnie? How they can get rid of Arki? It feels impossible.

On the table between the chairs are two things; a box tied closed with a piece of leather wound around it several times and a handwritten note on yellowing paper. Drift leans closer and reads it out loud without touching it.

“My dearest Arki,
I’m sorry I can’t do it anymore. My heart has seen the darkness of the world and I can’t unsee it. Do not look into the mirror. Do not let it out into the world. I tried to destroy it, but it would not burn and it would not break. I wish I could stay with you forever, but my heart is broken and can’t be mended. I shall enter the water of the lake and never return.
Please forgive me,
Warda”

They stare at the box and imagine the mirror must be inside. Both shrink back from it and sit staring silent at the fire for a few minutes. Fionn is the first to speak, her voice quiet and careful.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

“We look in the mirror?”

“Are you crazy?”

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding!”

“This is no time for jokes.”

“I know. Sorry. We use the mirror, right?”

“We get Arki to look into it. Whatever happened to Warda may happen to him and…if it does…Winnie might be free.”

“Wait..he definitely knows about the mirror? He would, right? I mean…if Winnie is Warda.”

“Yeah. I guess so…we will have to trick him.”

“Trick him? Maybe…but I don’t know. It all seems so confusing. If Warda killed herself then why has she returned and taken over Winnie?”

“And who left this room for us to find?”

And guiding the touch, she thinks. They sit for a moment pondering these questions when the face of a small girl appears in the fire. At first, they both think they can’t be seeing what they are seeing, but there’s no denying it when she begins to speak. Her voice is echoey and soft.

“Use the mirror and save us all,” the voice says.

Fionn notices the girl has the same features as Warda and a thought occurs to her. Is this her child? Is this why Winnie has told them the story over and over that they will save everyone? How do they fit into all this? She leans forward and speaks to the strange floating face.

“Who are you?”

“My parents once ruled this castle, but they were not good people. You must stop them. If you don’t, they will rise again and again and these walls and this land shall never be free.”

Drift jumps up and almost yells in excitement at some kind of understanding. It’s unbelievable, yes, but it makes sense. The spirits of this girl’s parents haunt these lands. They have to stop them!

“Your parents?”

The face smiles, nods, and fades away. They sit for a few minutes both lost in thought of the other children, of Winnie, and of the journey still before them. At the same time, they rise, bumping into each other and laughing.

“We get Arki to look into the mirror,” Drift says.

“Then the curse will be broken and Winnie will return to herself.”

“Easy as pie.”

They give each other a short, awkward hug which turns into giggles. Drift tucks the box under his arm and Fionn grabs the torch and lets it guide them back through the maze until they reach the wooden door at the top of the stairs. They listen for a few minutes with their ears pressed against the wood, and after hearing nothing, open the door slowly. There’s no sign of Winnie or Arki. They did it.

Leaving the torch in a bracket at the tunnel entrance, they enter the quiet library and ease the door closed behind them. They decide to put the desk back so the smaller children don’t accidentally find the tunnels. It’s hard work, made worse by how tired and scared they both are. Once done, they make their way through the silent house creeping around corners until they reach the kitchen. They drink and drink from the small indoor well until some strength returns to their tired bodies.

“Tomorrow?” Drift whispers.

“Now,” Fionn whispers back. “Look!”

She points out the small window of the kitchen at the sun beginning to rise in the sky. The children will be waking soon. They will need to get them to the water. The time is now.

They race through the castle searching room after room and find no sign of either Winnie or Arki. They run outside and through the once beautiful grounds searching behind bushes and in the tiny dilapidated gazebos. A terrible wet, raspy sound echoes through the dead garden and they follow it until they find a man and a woman lying naked side by side at the bottom of an old fountain.

“I don’t like this,” Drift says.

“Me either,” Fionn says.

The woman’s got long stringy grey hair and her wrinkled body is covered in tiny burn marks. The man beside her looks to be hundreds of years old. A fragile, frail form of dust and smoke. Fionn screams as the man rises slowly to his feet. It’s not until they see his grey eyes that they realize it’s Arki.

“What are you doing here?” Arki says in a wheezy, ancient voice that makes him sound like the wind.

He’s moving toward them, aging in reverse, growing younger and fatter within moments. The red suit appears with a flash of fire and he holds his hands out in front of him. Drift jumps in front of Fionn.

“Stay back,” he says.

The man laughs, the fake jolliness of it gone now. It’s a horrible sound and both the children scramble back. Fionn fumbles with the leather holding the box as Drift grabs a large rock and holds it up in front of him.

“What are you going to do little boy? Are you going to throw a rock at me? I’ve lived hundreds of years and defeated men far greater than you. You have nothing on me. ”

The fireball they saw him conjure in the lake has appeared again and he tosses it back and forth in front of him. Winnie, as Warda, stirs but doesn’t climb out of the stone fountain. She looks at them with unseeing eyes and moves her head from side to side.

“Hey,” Fionn calls. “Over here!”

A few things happen at once. First, Drift lunges at Winnie pressing her back into the fountain. Second, Arki spins around and releases his fireball which misses Fion’s head by inches, crashing into the stone wall behind her leaving a charred black circle. Third, Fionn holds the golden mirror with both hands in front of her and Arki looks into it.

At first, nothing happens. Fionn closes her eyes and holds the mirror steady for what feels like minutes. Nobody makes a sound or moves until suddenly Arki growls and lunges at the mirror. He grabs it and within seconds it fuses to his hand. He runs from them screaming toward the lake, a fiery light glowing around him, heat blasting out in all directions.

Drift stands revealing the writhing and crying form of Winnie/Warda beneath him. The other children appear blinking and rubbing their eyes in the morning light. They cry out when they see Winnie in fear and confusion. A horrible scream followed by blasts of hot air explodes around them—Arki! Fionn scoops up the blond-haired toddler and Drift drapes the ancient form of Winnie/Warda across his left shoulder.

“Follow me,” Fionn says. “We need to get to the tower.”

They race into the castle and up the winding staircase of the fortified tower—the place generations of Winnie’s family used when war came to their doors. The children huddle together in the corner around the writhing form of Winnie, while Fionn and Drift stand on wooden crates to peer out the small stone window.

Arki stands in the center of the lake swollen up to more than ten times his normal size—a terrifying giant of a man. He’s still holding the golden mirror, they can see it glittering small in the palm of his enormous hand. He’s screaming and crying, growing and growing in size.

“Warda!” he cries. “My love!” 

With one final bellow, the swollen form of Arki explodes, turning into a tidal wave of water. It rushes across the land, refilling the lake, and slamming loudly against the tower only a few inches from the windows where Drift and Fionn stand. The tower doesn’t move or quake—it remains strong as ever.

Winnie, returning to her beautiful self in a flash, pulls the children to her trying to hug and kiss them all at once. Blasts of cold air fill the tower dancing through the children’s hair and blowing their clothes away from their bodies. Everyone giggles and jumps to their feet—the horrible heat is gone!

“You did it, my loves,” Winnie says. “You saved us all. I knew you would. I just knew it. I’m so proud of you.”

Her words feel cooler than the wind blowing through the windows and warmer than the hottest of days. When the excitement fades, Winnie sits on the floor as the sunlight streams in, casting everything in a golden yellow light. She starts to tell them a new story.

“Once upon a time a woman fell in love with a creature of the sun named Arki. Their love burned bright and beautiful, blessing the lands with joy and prosperity. On the day of their wedding, a day filled with light and warmth, the Snow Queen arrived in her white chariot to give the bride a golden mirror. She told her to look into it on the day her first child was born and it would bless the child with a long, healthy life.

The years went by and the woman forgot about the mirror until the day she gave birth to a striking baby girl with hair red as the sun. She named her daughter Willa and as she held her tight she remembered the mirror. That night, alone in her room while her baby slept in her cradle, she gazed into its shimmery surface. 

The mirror was a curse—a gift given out of jealousy and anger. Instead of showing the new mother a vision of her daughter’s happiness, it showed her all the evil and darkness of humanity. What she saw within the glass broke her heart into a million pieces.

Arki tried to patch her back together, but he could not. On the day of her daughter’s first birthday, she drowned herself in the lake. Arki found her body and wept and wept. His sadness turned into anger and he burst into flames blinding the firstborn of all the children thereafter, trapping the land in perpetual summer, and sending him back into the sun.”

Stopping and wiping the tears from her eyes she grabbed the hands of Drift and Fionn. She looked and smiled at the children making sure to make eye contact with each one. Pulling the littlest one into her lap she finished the story.

“Many, many years later the castle was filled with children. Beautiful, loving, kind children who brought it back to life despite the curse. Guided by the spirit of Willa they were given the mirror and they used it to free the kingdom forever. It was because of these children the people of her lands lived happily ever after with peace and love in their hearts.”

The children clapped. They always clapped. Winnie giggled.

It took a few days for the water to recede, but the tower was stocked with plenty of food, water, and blankets. For the first time in their lives, the children slept cuddled together clinging to the warmth they’d spent their lives cursing. They played games, they told stories, and they dreamed.

When they were able to step outside they found the sky darkened with grey clouds. The windmills spun. Tiny flecks of white fluttered around them, sticking to their hair and collecting in little piles on the ground. The littlest one among them jumped from Winnie’s arms and shoved the icy snowflakes into his mouth.

“Do you think the Snow Queen freed the other queens?” Fionn asked, throwing the tiniest of snowballs at Drift. She believed all the stories now.

“Absolutely,” he said, catching it and shoving it into his mouth.

“Good.”

Author’s note: Last week I watched the new Thor movie and there’s a powerful scene in the film which brought me to tears. Without giving anything away, it involves children fighting for themselves. I was struck by the power of this image and wanted to play with that a bit in my story this week. Using elements of Hans Christian Andersen’s story of “The Snow Queen,” and other fairy tales I’ve loved throughout the years, I created this new story. This was perhaps the most fun I’ve had writing in the last 28 weeks and I truly hope you love it as much as I do. Let me know what you think!


Short Story Challenge | Week 28

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write about getting away with murder. We had to include Snow Queen, windmill, tunnel, childhood, endanger, cypress, wine, horseback, temperature, and imperial.


Write With Us

Prompt: An unexpected visitor shakes things up

Include: tightrope, nightingale, underline, risk, academy, existential, outlook, Friday, gobble, grill


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

The Child | A Short Story

Crawling out from a hollowed-out cavern at the base of an ancient tree, the small child stretches her pudgy arms up toward the warm rays of vertical light peeking through the wide yellow leaves. Two tiny birds peck the ground and hop around her, pulling at piles of dead leaves looking for something to eat. Her belly growls.

“Hi birdies,” she says.

Startled by her small voice, the birds jump and take flight, landing on the thick branches above her. They squawk and she mimics the sound. Her head hurts and she stumbles in a circle. Mother isn’t coming back. She’s a bad girl.

Beside a fallen log in a shadowy space between two trees, a scruffy rabbit appears. It sits on its hind legs with its front paws held daintily in the air as if waiting to catch something. The sunlight peeks through its long upright ears revealing snaking purple lines streaked through light pink ovals.

“Hello rabbit,” she says.

Its nose twitches, but it doesn’t move, so she takes a step toward it. The rabbit spins and hops into a moss-covered log, a movement so fast the girl barely sees it. She runs after it, peering into the log just as it hops out the other side and disappears into a tangle of thick bushes.

“Wait,” she says. “Come back!”

She scurries after it in dirty, pale pink converse. Both the off-white shoelaces and the turn-downed lace of her socks are covered in round grey burrs. Her ankles are red and itchy. She catches a glimpse of a furry brown tail jumping from one bush to another and follows it through thick vines, climbing over several fallen tree branches.

She loses sight of the rabbit in a field of yellow and purple flowers, wispy weedy things which stand as tall as she does. The brightness of the morning sun without the trees to dilute it makes her eyes burn and something causes her to sneeze. She stops.

“Rabbit!” she calls.

Several blackbirds take flight around her, but there’s no sign of the furry friend with the big ears. She picks a yellow flower and holds it out in front of her watching how the sun seems to be inside it when a fuzzy bee lands on the soft petals. She remembers sharp stabbing pains on her arms and face, and the burning red welts her mother had to cover in pink medicine. No, she wants no part of bees. They hurt.

“Leave me alone,” she cries.

She throws the yellow flower, covers her face with her small hands, and runs through the field of wildflowers. The loud sound of the buzzing bees surrounds her, but the tiny insects don’t land on her or sting. The ground slopes and she tumbles several feet before landing on her butt at the base of a tall pine tree. She cries.

It’s darker and colder here. Her thin purple leggings and soft pink princess t-shirt, dirty from sleeping on the decomposed leaves under the tree and now ripped from the fall, are thin and damp. Shivers travel through her like convulsions and the cries turn to sobs.

“Mommy,” she whispers, knowing there’s no use in calling for her anymore.

She wipes her wet nose with the sleeve of her shirt and sniffs loudly. The brown rabbit hops out from behind one of the squat trees and stares at her. He twitches his ears and she laughs.

“Oh,” she says. “Hi!”

Its deep black eyes look watery and she wonders if its mother left it in the woods too. It turns and begins hopping slowly down a small, dirt path. The girl follows although it’s becoming harder and harder for her to walk. Her legs don’t seem to want to move and there’s a strange pounding sound making her head feel as if it’s blowing up like a balloon.

The path ends at a beautiful cottage of reds, greens, and blues. Its sloping roof looks made of cookies, the windows of spun sugar, and the air smells of carnivals and bakeries. The girl giggles.

The red door sits partly open and the rabbit hops inside. The girl follows. It’s a small cluttered room filled with colorful items, none of them as interesting as the steaming wooden bowl of porridge sitting in the center of a round, blue table. She takes another step inside, looking for any place someone could be hiding.

“Hello?” she calls.

There’s no sound except for the rabbit munching loudly on a carrot it found on the floor. Her stomach growls and she crawls onto a large wooden chair and puts her finger into the warm porridge. It’s just right. With dirty hands she scoops it into her mouth, eating and eating until it’s gone.

There’s a bed along the far wall covered in colorful pillows and soft blankets. She takes off her shoes and sets them carefully on a rainbow rug beside a pile of books. Climbing under the warm blankets, she curls into a ball and falls asleep.

***

Alita carries a wicker basket in the crook of her left arm filled with the treasures of a morning spent forging; ginkgo biloba seeds, blackberries, mugwort, and aloe. She’s taken to wearing long dresses of faded blue, soft brown moccasins and braiding her long hair into two thick braids. Today her hair is bright red, warring with the cardinals for the brightest in the woods.

She’s humming a song and when she realizes it’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” she smiles. Her last daughter was an avid moviegoer, a regular cinephile who could tell you the makeup Vivian Blaine wore in “State Fair” and the plot of “Superman and the Mole Men” with George Reeves. She’d stay up late at night, clicker in hand, eating popcorn and watching everything she could. Alita misses her.

After three hundred years, Alita has given up on the world of people. She’s had all the humanity she can stand. Her Fortress of Solitude suits her well, a tiny home in the middle of a temperate forest she can change at will. Maybe she’ll bring back snow tonight and turn her home into a log cabin, she misses the fields of white and a crackling fire sounds nice.

One of her rabbits hops out of the open door of her candy house to greet her, a brownish thing with comically large ears. There’s a bit of orange around his mouth. She sets down her basket beside the door and sits on the ground.

“Hello Ralph,” she says. “You are early today.”

The rabbit hops into her lap, but before she can pet its soft fur, he hops out of her arms and back into the cabin. He stops on the threshold and looks at her with twitching ears. She’s not seen him do this before, and the odd behavior puts her on alert. She heightens her senses, seeking out what might be different, and finds it. There’s someone in her cabin.

The impossibility of this knowledge brings Alita to the brink of fury within moments. She’s not ready to interact with humans again. Her barriers have worked for decades; a field of stinging bees to the West, rushing rivers to the North and South, and an unclimbable rock field to the East. What could make them falter now? Whoever it is, they might be dangerous.

Alita shrinks herself, gaining wrinkles and grey hair, before entering her cabin with the use of an old yardstick turned walking stick. A small child lays on her bed, curled up beneath the quilt she made herself over 50 years ago. Thumb in mouth, the child looks no older than 4 or 5. It’s impossible, yet there she is.

The rabbit has curled into the space between the child’s feet and knees. Alita takes in the fresh cuts on the child’s cheeks, the empty bowl of porridge on the table, and the careful placement of the dirty shoes beside the bed. She backs out of the cabin.

Throwing aside the staff, she transforms into a snowy white owl and flies into the cool morning air. Following the trail of the child, she traces her journey back through the field of bees, inside the hollow of an old tree, and to a dirt road on the edge of the woods. There, Alita finds the tire tracks of the mother’s car. She circles the scene three times before landing.

In the bright light of the empty road, she retakes human form, giving herself a sweeping robe of bright purple and long ringlets of hair as golden as the sun. A young ground squirrel scampers to her, his tail twitching up and down.

“What did you see and hear little one?” Alita asks.

“She, she put girl here,” he says. “She, she says nothing.”

He runs across the tire tracks and back.

“She, she cries,” he says. “Cries and cries.”

Alita touches the tire tracks with human fingers and a jolt of icy pain stabs through her. A universal story, one which mirrors her own, sings out through the faint connection left behind. The mother left her child to protect her from someone who would kill them both. Desperation skews logic, transforming the impossible into hope. She had no other choice.

Alita stares at her human hands; long, thin fingers covered in silver rings. She presses them together in prayer as the mother did.

“Save my child.”

Did her own mother say this prayer when she left Alita? Her early memories are foggy and unclear. She can recall a mother with greying hair who seemed frightened all the time. There are flashes of angry men and terrible fires, but none of these images hold still long enough for Alita to examine them closely. Her first clear memory is of crows circling her in a field and Alita discovering she could become one of them.

It was a decision she found wild and exciting. She tried out all the creatures of the Earth, moving from place to place to experience the richness of the world through the form of any creature she liked. Dainty butterflies fluttering from flower to flower, sleek lions stalking prey, eagles with giant wingspans who can soar high above the clouds, enormous blue whales gliding through deep cool waters, and humans.

She learned to conform to the seasons, to the limits placed on what humans could be and understand and lived among people for decades. Her many lives and loves took her around the globe. She’s been married, a doctor, a performer, archeologist, teacher, soldier, sailor, and mother. Everything always ends in heartache. Everyone she’s ever loved has died.

In all her travels and experiences, she’s found nobody who can transform like she can, and she quickly learned most can’t handle the information. It would inevitably become about morality or spirituality—both things Alita has no use for. She’s connected to everything and yet they see her as connected to nothing.

Although she feels most comfortable in human form, her inability to experience time and death makes her feel like something else entirely—a creature seperate from everyone and everything else. Alone.

She likes living in these woods and caring for the creatures who live within them. The space allows her to transform her environment to match her mood and to play games to amuse herself. She loves being a witch or a wizard, playing with wands or flying broomsticks. It’s the way she’s found happiness, but this child changes everything. She can’t let her stay. It will only end badly.

Alita decides to walk back to her cabin on the same path the small child walked. A family of mice tells her of the child sobbing all night beneath the tree and the bees tell her they couldn’t sting her because she wasn’t a threat. The journey takes her several hours, a meandering path leading her straight to her own candy front door. She peels off a piece of licorice around the doorknob and takes a bite.

“Hello,” the little girl says.

She’s sitting at the round table with a paintbrush in her hand and a small uneven piece of paper before her. The rabbit sits beside her on the big chair, snuggled beside her legs. She dips the brush into the blue paint and continues.

“You found my paints,” Alita says.

“Ralph showed me,” she says.

“Ralph?”

“He’s funny!”

“Indeed he is. Can you talk to him?”

“When I’m a rabbit.”

Alita sits on the edge of her bed and watches the small child paint. She could have sworn the child had blonde hair before, but now it’s the same shade as Ralph. The color in her cheeks has changed too.

“Did you say you could become a rabbit?” Alita asks.

The child sets down her brush and frowns.

“Mommy gets mad…” she says. “She says I’m bad.”

Alita sits down on the edge of her bed across from the child and takes a calming breath. She’s playing a game. Children make up stories all the time. There’s no way, after all this time, she’d find someone like her. The hopefulness comes without permission though and it takes Alita a moment to be able to speak.

“Can you show me how you become a rabbit?”

The child frowns and looks at the floor. Ralph presses his nose into her hand and tickles her with his whiskers. Alita runs her hand through her hair changing it from loose golden ringlets to tight red curls. The child’s eyes widen and she giggles.

“I like red hair too,” she says.

She pulls at a matted curl beside her ear and turns her hair the same shade.

They both smile.

Author’s note: This story began with the idea of a child lost in the woods who stumbles upon a witch. As I started writing, little fairytale elements began to emerge and I decided to go with them and even embellish them a bit on the rewrite. It wasn’t until I began to tell Alita’s story I realized she wasn’t simply a witch. I loved the imagery of her being able to transform into all the creatures of the Earth, yet she wasn’t like any of them. It might be an “X-Men” situation or perhaps she’s from some deeper part of the world connected to it in ways humans have lost. I’ll leave that up to you to decide. When I wrote the words “Ralph showed me”—I realized I’d found my ending. I love giving both Alita and the child this connection and I hope you did too. Please let me know what you think in the comments. 

I’d also like to introduce you to a new writer of our weekly challenges, Angelica. I’ve known her since her birth and I’ve watched her grow into an incredible human capable of creating amazing stories. I know you will fall in love with her words as much as I have. Check out her version of the week’s prompt and give her some love.


Short Story Challenge | Week 20

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about a young child making a discovery. We had to include Superman, ginkgo Biloba, cavern, clicker, aloe, moviegoer, stretch, fury, yardstick, and makeup.


Write With Us

Prompt: High school hierarchy

Include pyramid, cowboy hat, amateurish, angle, ripple, cheese, jersey, blister, odyssey, reorder


My 52 Week Challenge Journey